Trick or Treat? Chocolate made with child labor

Hidden Halloween horror in cocoa production

Chocolate bars are a popular Halloween treat, but some come with a cruel trick—abusive and hazardous child labor in West African cocoa farms.

“Few of us will give any thought to how the 90 million pounds of chocolate candy given out this Halloween was made, who made it and under what conditions,” write Charita L. Castro, PhD, and Jialan Wang, PhD, assistant professors at Washington University in St. Louis, in an opinion piece published today by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


In 2001, journalists uncovered labor abuses of children in the Ivory Coast’s cocoa plantations. Since then, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Elliot Engel, D-N.Y., have put pressure on companies to eliminate the use of hazardous child labor from their candy-making process.

After a decade of back and forth with the industry, Tulane University and Global Exchange report that chocolate makers have made little progress toward promised reforms to address the worst forms of child labor among cocoa suppliers.

At least two million children are currently involved in the production of cocoa in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. This wouldn’t be the first time that candy has consumed children instead of the other way around,” write Castro, an assistant professor at the Brown School, and Wang, an assistant professor of finance at the Olin Business School.

In their op-ed piece, they write about how “Jane Addams established Hull House in Chicago in the late 19th century and helped little girls who were exploited and fatigued from working six weeks straight for 14-hour days in a candy factory. When finally given a chance to taste the hard-won products of their labors, the girls turned down the candy because they couldn’t ‘bear the sight’ of the candy they were offered.”


Castro and Wang say that while solutions to the larger child labor problem are not simple, buying fair trade certified chocolate or purchasing chocolate from companies owned by cocoa farmers are small steps to help children.

Read more of Castro and Wang’s comments in their St. Louis Post-Dispatch op-ed: “Don’t be tricked by treats: Say ‘boo’ to chocolate companies that use cocoa made from exploiting child labor.”